United States Post Office and ZIP Codes Timeline
The introduction of ZIP Codes marked the beginning of
the new age of the United States Post Office and the automation of mail
handling. Digital ZIP code maps and digital ZIP code databases have greatly
helped the online community by bringing this information to the masses.
Here's a look at the history of the Post Office as it relates
to the ZIP Codes innovation.
Over 2000 Years Before Zip Codes:
500 BC: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays
these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Greek
philosopher, Herodotus, pens this phrase that later is inscribed over the
main entrance of the New York City Post Office.
Over 300 Years Before Zip Codes:
1639: A tavern in Boston, owned by Richard Fairbanks, becomes the first
post office in the United States.
Over 200 Years Before Zip Codes:
1753: Philadelphia printer Benjamin Franklin is named joint postmaster
general. Franklin is later known as the “Father of the United States
Over 100 Years Before Zip Codes:
1774: The British Government fires Benjamin Franklin as joint postmaster
general due to his sympathies with colonists who wanted to break from England.
1775: The Continental Congress appoints Benjamin Franklin as postmaster
1785: The Post Office Department buys stagecoaches to carry the mail.
1789: Samuel Osgood is appointed as the first postmaster general under
the United States Constitution, by George Washington.
1813: Steamboats are employed to carry mail.
1829: The postmaster general becomes a member of the president’s
cabinet under Andrew Jackson.
1832: Trains carry the mail in Pennsylvania.
1838: Congress passes a law making all United States railroads post routes.
1847: The first American postage stamps go on sale: a five-cent stamp depicts
Benjamin Franklin, and a ten-cent stamp depicts George Washington. The
use of stamps is optional - recipients can be required to pay postage.
1855: The postal service makes the use of prepaid postage stamps mandatory
for mail delivery.
1855: Congress buys camels for the army to deliver mail over deserts in
1858: Mail collection boxes are introduced on the streets of large cities.
Before this, people were required to go to the post office to send letters.
1860: The Pony Express begins on April 3rd.
1861: The Pony Express ends after about a year and a half of service when
workers finish laying telegraph lines across the United States. Telegraph
messages are faster and cheaper than Pony Express delivery.
Over 50 Years Before Zip Codes:
1863: The postal department begins delivering mail to individual homes
in large cities free of charge.
1864: The first United States Railroad Post Office is established on a
train. Mail is sorted while in transit by train on cars specially designed
as sorting centers.
1869: The Transcontinental railroad is completed, speeding mail delivery
between New York and California in a week or less.
1888: Owney, the mail dog, makes a mail delivery trip by wagon.
He later accompanies the mail on trains around the country and even on
1893: Pneumatic tubes for mail delivery are introduced in Philadelphia.
Air pressure pushes the tubes from the main post office to smaller branches
in the city.
1896: Rural Free Delivery (RFD) is introduced in West Virginia.
1911: One of the first airmail flights in made. A sack of mail is flown
three miles and dropped from the plane to the waiting postmaster.
Over 25 Years Before Zip Codes:
1913: The United States Post Office Department begins Parcel Post, their
package delivery service, and establishes the COD (Collect on Delivery)
1918: The first permanent airmail routes are established.
1918: Stamp collector W.T. Robey buys a sheet of 100 defective airmail
stamps. The 24-cent stamps depicted an upside down airplane. These later
become some of the most valuable stamps in the world.
1921: The first airmail delivery employing nighttime flight is completed.
Mail is delivered from San Francisco to New York in under 34 hours.
Twenty Years Before ZIP Codes:
1943: The United States Post Office Department divides cities into zones.
This was a precursor to the Zoning Improvement Plan Codes, or ZIP Codes.
Zip Codes and the New United States Postal Service: 1963 - Today
1963: ZIP Codes are introduced. ZIP Codes are five-digit numbers that enable
mail to be sorted faster. Use of the code was not mandatory on any mail
1967: The Post Office requires second- and third-class bulk mail to be
pre sorted by ZIP Code.
1970: President Richard Nixon signs the Postal Reorganization Act.
1971: The new United States Postal Service is born as an independent agency,
no longer a part of the president’s cabinet.
1975: The practice of sending first-class mail traveling more than 200
miles by plane is established.
1977: Express Mail service begins.
1983: ZIP Codes are updated to ZIP + 4 Codes.
1992: Stamp machines automate the sale of stamps.
2000: The United States Postal Service opens the Postal Store on the Internet.
2003: Zip-Codes.com allows Internet users to find Digital ZIP code maps & information